20 Aug 2010

Piggies and other farm animals – what’s not to love

“Pigs are not that dirty. And they’re smart, strange little creatures. They just need love.” Shelley Duvall.

“The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.” Elizabeth Bishop.

Someone posted an especially adorable photograph of two young pigs asleep today, a day when my frame of mind was not terribly positive, my disposition not terribly agreeable or my prospect of achieving much, all that good. So the pigs were especially appreciated and I set off to look at some of my own favourite pig photographs.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view, they look rather dark here on the page.

I was surprised to see how many people expressed a love of piggies and enjoyed the photographs, I’d always felt I was a little unusual in liking them so much. But, let’s face it, what’s not to love.

So whilst I work on more technical and worthy articles for future blogs, I thought a wet Friday was a good day to spread some porcine loveliness. And while I’ve been searching out photographs to post, I found some other favourites of farm animals – which I think make lovely subjects. Because we spend as much time as possible in the English Lake District and on a farm, I do spend time in the company of farm stock and they’re as entertaining and enjoyable as any wildlife or domestic pet.

Herdwick sheep are a regular sight in the Lake District and resident on the moors, where they wander about in their individual territories and don’t bother with you and just go about their business. I love to see them, they’re so photogenic that I’ve taken a massive amount of photos of them.

We once had a conversation with the farmer, whose property we regularly stay on, about different breeds of sheep and Mr Boo made a comment about how Herdwicks were reputed to be very territorial, each animal sticking to a relatively small area of moorland and subsequent generations do too. He seemed perplexed that the very idea should even be noteworthy, commenting; “well, of course they do, you remember where you live don’t you and go home every night?”

This particular photograph has always been informally called ‘Reservoir Sheep’ when I identify it in my mind as the way they walked down the road reminded me of that scene from the film.

In the area where we stay in the Lakes, quite a few of the local farmers keep Highland Cattle, what we affectionately call ‘Muckle Coos’ – which must always be said in a Scottish accent.

I spotted this scene one summer evening when we were returning home from a day out – the cows were spilling across this field as the setting sun filtered through the trees. We’ve driven past this spot many, many times since that day and I have not seen the light as lovely since.

This is Lucy, one of the dairy herd at the farm – they often pop their heads over the wall as we drive past and as the field is higher than the lane, their heads pop over from above you as you pass.

This particular meal held up traffic in both directions for several minutes, but I don’t think anyone minded.

Not really a farm animal – but when I spotted it earlier, I thought it worthy of inclusion as it made me laugh again. Each spring, usually just after Easter, there is a local country fair in celebration of the local delicacy of damsons – called Damson Day – and we try and catch it if we’re in the area, it’s worth a visit to support a community which we consider our second home. One of the attractions a couple of years ago was Ferret Roulette. You paid your 50p stake, someone chose a ferret and you each took a card with a number – which each corresponded to a tube radiating from a central drop point.

The selected ferret, was popped into the central core and if he emerged out of the spoke you had the number of, you won a modest cash prize. I certainly lost more than I won – but it was worth every penny. I was most disappointed that it wasn’t there last year, I’d saved some 50p coins specially.

Don’t you just love the way lambs go mental in an evening. This is from the window of the caravan we stay in – it’s lovely that we have such delightful entertainment laid on – we’ve wasted many an hour just watching them play. The orchard is long and thin and they just hurl themselves from one end to another en-mass in an evening.

This Easter I saw one of the funniest things I’ve seen a non-domestic or trained animal do in a long time. One of the ewes was watching the youngsters collectively run back and forth and she stood there intently following them with her eyes, having totally abandoned her eating, from one end of the field to the other. On about the third or fourth pass, she joined them – running full pelt alongside them – she ran to the far end and back again and as they came to a dip in the field where the land has creased into a mini scar down the hillside, she leapt vertically into the air over the gap. When she landed, panting, she shook herself off and carried on with her supper.

She had clearly watched them and remembered how much fun it was and wanted to join in. I’ve never seen a full grown sheep join in before and I was sorry that it was getting dark and happened very fast and I just didn’t have a camera to record it for posterity. To be honest, I was laughing way too hard to have managed a decent photograph.

We followed this farm vehicle on the road one evening and I managed to get one photograph as it slowed to turn. Unfortunately the third dog on the left just dropped down at that point, but up until then, it had been stood up at the front too. I wonder if the planks hadn’t been there, if the German Shepherd would have been stood up too?

We once followed a similar convoy down a very narrow single track lane, with the addition of about 40 sheep. The sheep were running along the lane, followed by the farmer on his quad, with his 2 trusty sheepdog in his trailer. It was slow going and we tried not to look like we were pressuring them to hurry – after all, they were working and we were just having a nice day out.

The farmer slowed and gave a complex sounding whistled command and the dogs jumped out of the trailer and ahead of the vehicle – they herded the sheep up a side lane to a farm and held them there, a dog at each end of the flock, just off the road and he pulled into the mouth of the lane to let us pass. He then gave another whistle and the dogs returned the sheep to their path along the main lane and jumped back into the trailer.

I have huge, huge admiration and affection for the farming community, they are interesting and hard working people with the most amazing sets of skills and heads full of incredibly valuable knowledge. I always feel it is an honour to witness such a demonstration and can only stand back and applaud. I always enjoy watching the amazing teamwork between man and sheep dog, where the mearest hint of audible command, can make something fabulous happen.